When the Gospel Gets Risky: Nov 19, 2023

November 21, 2023

 Year A, Pentecost 25                                  Matthew 25:14-30                                                                                         

If you were
so inclined, you could read 10 different commentaries about this gospel reading
and discover 10 different theories about what this text means.  I am not going to pretend to have the
definitive answer on what this should mean for you.  But here is what I keep coming back to.  Risk. This is a story about risk and what or
who enables us to take risks. 

In our
parable for today, we hear about a man who entrusted three slaves with an
incredible amount of money. He gave one slave 5 talents, another 2 and another
1.  A talent was a unit of measure and
one would have been worth about 20 years wages for an average day laborer.  That’s a significant amount of money to leave
a servant or a slave, or really anyone for that matter.  It would seem that this man had a lot of
confidence in these three slaves.  This
man didn’t provide them much direction. He didn’t tell them what to do with the
property or even how long he would be gone. 
It just says that he entrusted his property to them. If it were me, I
would have wanted a lot more information and direction.

The slave
who received 5 talents traded with them and doubled his money.  The slave who was given 2 talents also
doubled his money.  Not bad.  The 3rd slave dug a hole in the
ground and hid his master’s money.  When
the master returned, he rewarded the slaves who were able to double the money
they were entrusted with and the third was punished for…for what? That’s what I
am not clear on.  It would be easy to
assume that the third slave was punished for not making money, but given that
this was Jesus talking, it’s has to be more than that. 

In order to
figure out why he was being punished, I kept looking at what the master said to
the third slave before he cast him into outer darkness.  However, the answer might be more easily
discovered not in the reprimand of the third slave but in the accolade for the
first two slaves.  To the first two the
master said, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy
in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of
your master.” They were not commended for the money that they made.  They were commended for being trustworthy in
what they were given. They had taken what they were given and they had used
those things well.

The other
clue is in how the 3rd slave addressed the master. The others met
the master by simply saying, “Master, you handed over to me five talents, but I
have made 5 more talents.” 
The 3rd slave told the man on his
return, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not
sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went
and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.”

was afraid of his master.  He perceived
him as a harsh man with questionable business practices.   But it would appear from the way the two
others addressed the master (and maybe even by the way that they acted in his
absence) that they didn’t fear the master. 
If they had feared him, they probably would have not had the confidence
to take the risks that they did.

Was the master as bad as the
slave described him?  It would seem that
the master affirmed what the 3rd slave said, but not
necessarily.  The master did not say,
“You are right, I am all of those things you said I am.”  No he said, “You knew, did you, that I reap
where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter?” It was a question,
almost a challenge. 
 He was
challenging the way the slave perceived him. You see, I don’t think the issue
was his trust of the slave, as much as the slave’s trust of the master.

The slave
was anticipating a harsh and unfair man, and that was what he got.  Because that was what he was
anticipating…because that was the master he knew, he didn’t have freedom to
actually use what the master gave him. 
No, instead he buried it.  He had
no desire to serve the master…he simply wanted to keep what had been given
secure.  That provided not only security
for the talent, but security for him.  His main priority was protecting himself.

          I confess I struggled
with the language of slave and master. 
But remember, parables were meant to be understood by the people who
were hearing them at the time. This would have been familiar language to people
in the first century.  Jesus was
constantly trying to teach people another way of seeing things.  At the time, many people perceived God as a
harsh master who punished without good reason. 
But Jesus wanted people to know that God wanted more out of God’s
relationship with humanity.  Yes, there
is judgment.  The text right after this
is the story of God judging those who did not care for the poor and the

God’s relationship with humanity is more than judgement and punishment.  It’s a relationship that involves trust in God
and in ourselves.  God has given us each
gifts.  We can look at it more broadly
and consider that God has given us the gift of life or love.  Or we can look at it as the unique gifts that
we each carry.  I am not sure it matters.
The point is that these gifts are meant to be used—sometimes…in ways that
challenge us and others.

I am a risk
adverse person. I hate taking risks. I definitely don’t do it as much as I
should.  If we never take risks, then we
are saying that we have no confidence in God’s call to us.  It’s saying that we don’t believe that we can
actually be God’s hands and feet on this earth. 
It’s saying that we care more about how other people perceive us, then
how God judges us.  I am definitely
guilty of that. 

You know
when I was first working on this sermon, the thing that kept nagging at me was
not why this 3rd slave got punished, but I really wanted to know,
what would have happened if he had trusted his master and then lost the money.  That is the question that haunted me.  Do you know why that question was bothering
me? Because I just really wanted an excuse not to take a risk. I kept thinking,
well of course these other two were rewarded, because they succeeded. And this
other was reprimanded because he refused to risk.  But what about the one who took the risk and
failed.  What happens to them?  Where are they in this story?

They fail.
And then they try again.  I wonder how
long the master was gone. I wonder how much money the slaves lost before they
gained anything?  Ultimately this is a
story about the 2nd coming of Jesus Christ– when Jesus comes
back.  This isn’t a few months we are
talking about.  This is a lifetime.  We have a lifetime of opportunities to use
the gifts that God has given us, to take risks, to fail, to fail again and
maybe eventually to get it right. The only real failure is when we stop trying.  I am talking about us as individuals, but
also as a church. If we aren’t taking risks. 
If we aren’t failing a little.  We
aren’t living the Gospel.